Our world does not have a long history; if not in religious sense then at least in political and economic evolution. The Paleolithic phase (Old Stone Age) entered into Neolithic phase (New Stone Age) around 10, 000 B.C. The hunter gatherers started agriculture around 8000 B.C. and it was the yield of surplus grain that gave rise to trade between the tillers in the suburbs and the city dwellers who were mainly manufacturers of Bronze Age. This period being insignificant till 2100 B.C. once Hammurabi of Babylon introduced the earliest law code.
There existed in these times the oldest civilizations like Mesopotamian (3500 B.C.), Egyptian (3000 B.C.) and Harrapan (2500 B.C.). The Greek City States and Iranian empire struggled around 700 B.C. to 300 B.C. The Roman Empire – replacing Roman Republic – was founded in 27 B.C. and perished in 476 A.D. The various religions like Confucianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam emerged from 600 B.C. to 600 A.D. The known history from this moment onwards was dominated by the kings and monarch in all parts of the world and among followers of all religions.
Then began the phase of colonialism from the 15th century and lasted (in physical domain) till 20th century. However, the critics are of the view that the colonialism continues till to-date in the form of neo-colonialism. In April 1492, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, after ending Muslims’ rule in Spain, despatched Christopher Columbus on a sea voyage that culminated on discovery of American continent. Only five years later, on 8 July 1497, Portuguese King Manuel sent Vasco da Gama – in command of four ships and 170 men – on a mission that took him to found India.
The rest is history. In following centuries, Portugal, Spain, England, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy were able to colonize almost entire America, Africa and most part of the Asia. Those who got colonized were more in numbers, fought in their own lands, but were vanquished by usually a smaller minority from European peninsula.
Historian Niall Ferguson in his book “Civilization: The West and the Rest” has found six factors in this rise of the West. These are: 1) competition; 2) science; 3) property rights; 4) medicines; 5) the consumer society; and, 6) the work ethic (p.12). The West passed through various stages like Renaissance (13th century), Reformation (16th century), Enlightenment (late 18th century), and, Industrial Revolution (18th century). During all these phases, different phenomena were taking place, like: struggle for individual freedom, rise of a trading class, reducing the powers of monarchs and kings, secularization of politics, emergence of the nation-state etc.
During this period, the French Revolution (1789) and American Revolution (1776) took place that ushered in the lasting notions of a responsible republic and a representative government. In 1776, Adam Smith wrote “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” that gave birth to capitalism. He prophesied that serving the individual interest would actually promote the collective interest through an ‘invisible hand’. Karl Marx contrarily wrote “The Communist Manifesto” in 1848 and “Das Kapital” in 1867 that battled against unbridled forces of capitalism.
John Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire wrote treatises that advocated for democracy and more republican form of the government. These were the formative years of the West when citizens learnt to live through the notions of democracy, work ethics and, of obligations and duties being citizen of a nation-state. Capitalism and the capitalists were soon to realize that the worker was also a consumer and his interests were to be protected. Therefore, wages raised, working conditions improved and the consumer was protected to a level that the interests of owners were not hurt. The inner debate and dialogue in the societies continued for the good of citizenry.
The very people participated and evolved percepts of a better and powerful world that others could not resist and were colonized. The wars by the kings abhorred, and the national wars fought, eventually convinced the warrior nations to find peaceful norms of competition and survival. In nutshell, the kings were rejected by the society, freedom was won by the individual, economy and politics was transformed to a degree that the West achieved edge on other parts of the world. The occupation of vast colonial empires in far off lands is testimony to this superior edge over others.
Contrarily to the spirit of these times, a focus on the subcontinent and overall Muslim world would reveal a different trend and direction of societal movement till these were colonized by the West. These societies appear victim of a deadly status quo. These never yearned for a change: a change in the form of government from the kingdoms to the republic, the economy that aspires to expand under new rules than mere slouching at a subsistence level, a population agitating for more individual freedom than merely accepting the kings’ rule as a fate accompli, an education system that is based on scientific critical enquiry and evidence than mere emulation and acceptance, and a culture that promotes work ethics, savings and investment than mere luxurious display of individual idiosyncrasies. Except territorial and hereditary wars, the history of these societies has left no trace of a worthwhile political or economic debate in these lost centuries.
Emulation and repetition continued in the name of scholarship after 13th century. In 1500, there were more than 200 printing press in Germany alone, whereas in 1515, Turk king Sultan Salim 1 had issued a death sentence decree for anyone using the printing press. The male and female literacy rate in Paris by 1789 was 90 per cent and 80 per cent respectively when female literacy at mass level was hitherto an unknown concept in the Muslim world. They were colonized being inferior in knowledge and warfare in later centuries.
Then began the resistance and struggle phase for the independence of the colonial world. The colonial societies were familiarized only with history of kingships and their glorious wars. However, the colonial masters were in no mood to restore the old kingships and their empires. Meanwhile, a small segment from the colonial populace had also emerged that aspired for creation of new nation-states based on democratic form of the government. The World War I, World War II and the rise of America also influenced the course of history toward decolonization by the former masters.
There emerged new nation-states that were still inhabited by a majority that was hardly prepared for the experiments of democracy, free market, individual freedom and rule of law. In absence of such essential institutions, the common attractions for the majority were family bondage, tribal lineage, ethnic and linguistic affinity, and sectarian factionalism. These colonies wavered betwteen authoritarian regimes to democratic governments in search of progress and development. However, till to-date former colonies stand far short of the desired goals and are mostly dependent on former masters. The old tribal mindset is often at display and not an exception. They have yet to learn that the authority is the law, or, the law is the authority. And, now these societies also face the ever growing challenges of Globalization.The globalization phenomenon has been given impetus by introduction of new technologies and advent of the Information Age. The transportation and information means have virtually reduced all types of distances and barriers. The citizens of nation-states are no more restricted, shielded or blinded by the state frontiers rather they live in a world of ‘mirror-image’. The societies and individual not only see each other but also compare. This certainly has given rise to expectation, demands and aspirations. The ‘local’ phenomenon still exists but there is also a rise of universalism in culture, media, food, dress, language, and awareness.
The manifestation can be seen in evolution of global systems: political system is getting shaped around democracy, economic globalization around free market, global climate regimes, global nuclear non-proliferation, and global trade regimes etc. Now the questions arise: 1) Whether these former colonies are prepared to take part in this globalization process? 2) Have these societies passed through the formative periods when individual freedom and representative government is outcome of a societal evolution than mere imported but alien norms? 3)
Will the ‘mirror-image’ of a globalized world put these former colonial societies in a long internal conflict till settling of political, economic and cultural contradictions? 4) Will these societies enter into a conflict mode with the former masters, or failing would lead to a frustrated response from few agitated individuals? The questions are numerous and the answers unpredictable. However, one thing is obvious that centuries lost during middle ages cannot be regained in few years by mere desires, dreams, agitation, or at worst, internal violence.
If the causes and reasons for the rise of one civilization are based on individual freedom, genuine representative and participatory governments, economic liberalization and decentralization, universal education, gender indiscrimination and rule of law, the other civilization would have to either find new paradigms for the progress and development, or, follow the suit. Till that destiny, they will have to live through the times with patience, work earnestly, and, maintain stability and internal cohesion. If there is only a hollow desire of self-rise in these former colonial societies, then nothing is a better choice than wait and pray for the others’ fall as a process of change by the Nature that occurs in centuries and millennia.